Water Color Depiction of Lesha (credit: Adobe Firefly)

We just sent out a letter to the greater AYA community which featured three timelines that represent three different AYA members. The names and identifiable details have been changed, but they are inspired by real people living in Grand Rapids.

Above, is a watercolor depiction of Lesha, a current AYA member.

At the age of 18, Lesha left home due to a variety of factors and after a series of events, she found herself experiencing literal homelessness. This was hard for Lesha to come to terms with as she is strong-willed, determined, and optimistic. Yet, she tried to make the best of her situation, building a community among folks also experiencing homelessness. This community was made up of people of all ages and backgrounds. They shared resources and information. It was from this group that Lesha would learn about AYA Youth Collective.

Lesha became a member at Drop-in, stopping by every so often and making small gains toward her stability. 

In the meantime, she found an abandoned strip mall and was able to keep as safe, dry, and comfortable as possible. But she wouldn’t stay here long, Lesha was determined to make a better way for herself.

She tried couch surfing, extended-stay hotels, and was able to secure a rented room from a comfortable home. But when the landlord unexpectedly passed away, she had to move out and was back to square one.

All the while, Lesha was at least able to get a meal, essential items, and do several loads of laundry whenever she came by AYA.

At AYA, we strive to support young people where they are and connect them to resources that already exist. We are a place of collaboration. A place of belonging. A place of respite.

Lesha was feeling quite discouraged until she met someone who changed her life. Her name was Maria. They became romantically involved and soon began planning a life together, thinking about the future, and dreaming of the things they would accomplish. 

“It was a positive relationship with [Maria] and it allowed me to be me. Maria motivated me to be a better person. I didn’t have to be rough and tough. I could be nice but also be assertive. I went on long walks with her and we just talked about everything. Where we are going from here, where we are going to get jobs, etc.”

Maria recently passed away, which has only compounded the effects of Lesha’s trauma.

But Lesha doesn’t want her story to be shared so we feel sad for her or take pity on her life – instead, she’d like you to know that her story is uniquely hers and the things that have happened to her have made her the strong person she is today. And no matter what perpetually shifting changes have occurred in her life – whether changes in relationships, shelter, income levels, employment, etc – AYA has been a constant.

Lesha was able to secure housing by accessing a voucher through an MDHHS case worker. She was able to get a job through a friend. And with a job, she was able to purchase her own car. She did all these things with her own grit and determination. Meanwhile, AYA continued to be a safe place to return to. Regardless of what hardship she was experiencing that day or where she slept the night before, she knew she could see the same therapists, the same youth advocates, and count on continued access to showers, laundry, and hot meals.

At AYA, we strive to support young people where they are and connect them to resources that already exist. We are a place of collaboration. A place of belonging. A place of respite.

Lesha is a current member of AYA. She is living in affordable housing, has a steady job, and is an active participant in the Youth Action Board – a local youth-led organization that advocates on behalf of young people experiencing homelessness. At AYA, Lesha continues to build positive relationships with peers and advocates which fuels her determination, hard work, and increasing stability.